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What it really takes to become a professional photographer

You need more than creativity to become a great photographer. Benjamin Williamson knows the perfect balance and tools you need to be successful.

What it really takes to become a professional photographer

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then Benjamin Williamson has a voracious vocabulary.

With a commitment to his craft, Williamson, one of New England’s premiere landscape photographers, creates scenes that sing with life: moons that swell over colorful cityscapes, waves that crash onto rocky coastlines, ocean mist that envelopes shining lighthouses. Williamson invites his viewers on a journey through historic New England.

Like many photographers, Williamson works another job. For the past seven years he has bartended at Sea Dog Brewing Co. in Topsham, Maine. Though Williamson’s photos look like products of a lifetime of practice, he has only been pursuing photography for the last three years.

"Wharf Street" by Benjamin Williamson

It’s true — to earn a living off of photography alone takes time and dedication to one’s craft as well as a drive to sustain business in whatever genre: landscape, portraiture, sports or otherwise. The decreasing cost of digital cameras and the increasing quality of smartphone photography has created a large number of amateur photographers and hobbyists.

But for serious photographers, being able to do what you love and share it with the world is reason enough to keep after your craft and pursue it professionally. Williamson shares how he balances his two jobs, what he must sacrifice and the breakdown of his typical day.

What do you enjoy about being a photographer?

The best part for me is being able to capture beautiful moments in time. I seek out these moments and I might not have even noticed them before I got into photography. Now I see the whole world differently. 

What challenges come with being a landscape photographer and how do you handle them?

The challenges definitely come on the business end of being a photographer. As much as I love being out and taking photos, to be successful at what I do, I have to spend at least twice as much time responding to emails, completing sales, putting together products and pursuing other business opportunities. Did I say twice as much time? I meant 10 times as much.

What challenges do you find balancing photography with a day job (or night job)?

My job bartending perfectly dovetails my landscape photography pursuits. I am mostly a sunrise shooter, so working from 4 a.m. or 12 to 10 at night really doesn't get in the way. What it does leave me is very little time to spend with friends and family. That's tough, but they all seem to understand and really support what I'm doing.

What must you accomplish at the end of the day, or week, to feel successful as a photographer? What are your goals?

I was never much of a goal setter in my younger years, but having turned 32 recently, I've become more focused and a lot more ambitious. I write little lists of tasks that I need to finish for the week. Right now I have one in front of me that says, "Invoice, Print Order, Boston Globe Ad, Monster Interview, etc." I just cross them off as I finish them. I've developed a large following on social media, so posting regularly there is definitely a priority. My biggest goal is to keep getting out there day after day and making photos that tell some kind of story or shine attention on something that I think is important, mostly finding beauty and serenity in the world around us.

As a landscape photographer what do you spend the most time doing? Shooting photos? Traveling? Editing? Updating social media and your websites?

I spend most of my time editing photos. An average day goes like this: I wake up at 4 a.m., grab a Clif Bar and a banana and jump in the car with my gear. I'll drive up to an hour to a scenic location and arrive before sunrise, usually in the twilight hour before. I'll explore the area and consider my options, set up and shoot the scene for about two hours as the light changes and eventually becomes too harsh for good landscape photos. After that I'll drive back home and plug my memory card into the computer and then spend about four hours editing, with the goal of posting at least one of the shots I got to social media before I go to work at four. Now, that isn't every day, just shooting days, which happen about once or twice a week, depending on the weather. The other days of the week I do make time for things like hiking, running, spending time with my wife and you know, eating lunch.

In your experience what must someone possess to be a professional photographer?

To be a professional photographer you have to really, really love what you are doing. You have to love making images so much that you are willing to put up with the extremely boring and mundane tasks like promoting yourself and making sales of your work. Many landscape photographers do this simply as a hobby for that reason. They have a job, are making money and use photography as a creative outlet. That is great, but that doesn't make you a professional. Being a professional means you are trying to run a business with your photography, something that doesn't come naturally to most creative types.

Serious about becoming a professional photographer? Browse photography jobs.

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